Beware of wolves cloaked in "access"

  • Ben Long

 

America's national forests belong to everyone, and all Americans deserve and rightfully demand access to this national birthright. Such access is like oxygen for hunters and anglers, but beware: Industry barracudas and their pals in Congress are trying to hoodwink sportsmen into supporting bad legislation by promising more lenient access.

Today's case in point is HR 1581, the so-called Wilderness and Roadless Release Act. It's sponsored by a Southern California representative who claims he wants to "improve access" to public land. What does this mean? For the oil and gas industry, access means gaining the opportunity to drill. For folks overly fond of their quads and dirt bikes, access means license to drive motorized vehicles wherever and whenever they wish.

There are many ways to access the land -- on foot, by horse or mule, mountain bike or motorized vehicle. All of them are appropriate in some places and inappropriate in others. In Montana, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a successful access program called Block Management. It offers ranchers incentives for allowing hunters to access their private land. Hunters come by the thousand, but they come on foot. They park where the rancher tells them to park, and they walk in.

Likewise, Plum Creek Timber Co. is the largest private landowner in the Treasure State. The company allows hunters access to their land (I've shot several whitetail deer on Plum Creek ground, so I'm grateful), but hunters may only drive on roads deemed open by the company. Still, thousands of acres in Montana are accessible by foot, game cart, mountain bike or pack horse.

As most Westerners can tell you, the biggest threat to national forest access is the moneyed people who buy the surrounding land, then shut down the trails and roads leading to the public land. Unfortunately, HR 1581 does nothing to solve this problem. No, the backers of HR 1581 seem to have breathed too many of the fumes of the Capitol to remember the smell of pine needles. A handful of Beltway gun and sportsmen's groups are in on this act. Melissa Simpson of the Safari Club International even testified for H.R. 1581. In her letter to Congress, Simpson used the word "access" nine times.

It sounded good, but what would the bill actually do? It would peel back existing conservation provisions on tens of millions of acres of roadless areas in national forests across the West, including 6 million acres in my state of Montana. These areas are often the most secure big game habitat -- the places thousands of hunters go to seek trophy elk, muley bucks, bighorn rams or just a piece of peace and quiet. And they are also the source of clean water used by trout, salmon and steelhead (and their pursuers) far downstream.

These areas already have ready access, generally by foot, stock animal, mountain bike, and, in some places, off-road vehicles. Roadless areas are critical to providing ordinary hunters and anglers opportunity in the modern world. That is why sportsmen's groups including Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are opposed to the legislation. I am puzzled why some Western Republicans, like my own Rep. Dennis Rehberg, trumpet their support for this bill. In election years, most politicians try to warm up to the voting hunters and anglers, not slap them in the face. Yet HR 1581 is bound to lead to shorter hunting seasons, more restrictions and reduced opportunities for hunters. Yet this is being twisted into "pro-access" rhetoric. What is really going on here?

Draw your own conclusions, but keep a few facts in mind: Before she went to work for the Safari Club International, Simpson worked for a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. One of her clients was the oil and gas industry, and one of her assignments was to counter the concerns of sportsmen's groups, which had voiced concerns about oil and gas exploration running roughshod over America's hunting and fishing grounds.

The sponsor of the HR 1581 is Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Southern California. There's not much hunting country in his district, but he does brag that his district produces more oil than all Oklahoma. And, according to opensecrets.org, the oil and gas lobby is one of his biggest campaign contributors.

There are lots of wolves out there. Some live in the woods and have sharp teeth. Others live in the city and carry briefcases.

Ben Long is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Kalispell, Mont., and has hunted the backcountry of Idaho and Montana for more than 30 years. He is senior program director for Resource Media.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FIGHTING FOR WILDLIFE
    Position Type: Community organizer; full-time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT. Compensation: $50,000 Benefits: Medical stipend, vacation time, flexibility. Application Deadline: June 15th. Starting Date: July 1...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PLAN COORDINATOR
    The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is hiring an Environmental Programs Manager in the Natural Resources Department. This position manages work in wetlands, brownfields, climate change, energy...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR - YELLOWSTONE TO YUKON CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
    About the Organization The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization with a mission to connect and protect wildlife habitat...
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...